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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Making the Cut: Cheese Lovers Converge at Whole Foods

By James Lomuscio

The art of cracking an 85-pound wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, a.k.a. Italian Gold, is so demanding, the term “cut the cheese” seems a gross understatement. Image
Zachary Stein, a Trumbull resident and a special department team leader at Westport’s Whole Foods market, cracks an 85-pound wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano at the store today as the company hoped to set a world record. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

Many say that making the cut requires skill reminiscent of master masons, if not sculptors. Even likening it to splitting a diamond does not seem a stretch.

And so today about 30 of the curious foodies and cheese lovers converged at Westport’s Whole Foods Market on Post Road West to watch Zachary Stein, team leader for the specialty department, break the wheel. They also got to have a taste.

All 176 Whole Foods Market stores in the United States, Canada and throughout the United Kingdom had scheduled to crack such wheels simultaneously today. The goal, company officials said, was to beat the stores’ 2008 Guinness World Record of 300 wheels opened at once.

After the wheel had sat for 24 hours at room temperature, the Stein used a scoring knife across the wheel’s diameter, down its side and all the way around. Next, he wedged two almond-shaped knives into the sides just below the top, only their handles sticking out.

Then he stuck another sharp, wide-bladed knife to its hilt in the center of the wheel. Afterwards, the side blade handles where shimmied until a fine crack appeared along the sides. Next, he flipped the wheel over and repeated the process on the other side.

Finally, signs of delight mingled with aroma as the wheel split in half and employees readied to serve up samples of Italian Gold.

“It’s an art, and you have to be really passionate about cracking cheese,” said Gary Castaneda, specialty department supervisor.

“It’s better than using a wire to cut Parmagiano because it looks more rustic and natural,” he added.

Castenada, who watched Stein do the honors today, said he has cracked dozens of such wheels at Whole Foods Market stores in Fairfield and Westchester counties.

“It’s really a good event, not just because we want to beat out record, but because we get a lot of people involved,” said Castaneda. “A lot of our customers look forward to it.”

With the event happening simultaneously at Whole Foods stores throughout the globe, an unidentified bystander rhetorically asked Stein if “this is known as the crack heard ‘round the world?”
Dave Matlow contributed reporting for this story.


Posted 02/27/10 at 11:30 PM  Permalink


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